Who comes to mind when you daydream about your perfect partner? When I was young, I wanted a Christ-loving, brown-haired, brown-eyed man who could sing and loved the Indianapolis Colts, the UNC Tarheels, and the Atlanta Braves. Maybe my first list was a tad too specific?
As I aged, my list matured. I wanted a Christ-loving, (preferably) brown-hair, brown-eyed man who could sing and liked the UNC Tarheels. Who also worked hard, wanted children, and would love me with his heart and soul (as I would also love him).
After a few more years passed, the hair and eye color no longer mattered (as much). I realized love could conquer college basketball disagreements (unless a Duke fan was involved). My desire to sing with my future husband remained, but the idea of creating a happy home with lots of children became of greater importance to me.
What I consider important has continued to change in the last twenty-five years. Yes, I was thinking about marriage when I was ten (were you not? ~smile~). After going around the sun a few times as a wife, I am convinced that good character in a mate is more important than any amount of talent, good looks, or prosperity. It is wonderful when couples share hobbies or a passion for ministry, physical fitness, or the arts. Having common interests and goals strengthens relationships, but good character is foundational. It does not matter how much you have in common with your special someone; if he or she (or you) lacks character, the relationship will slowly, but surely, erode.
What Should I Look For in a Mate?
First and foremost, couples need to agree on their faith. A Christ-follower (not in name only, but also in practice) will frequently be frustrated and saddened in a relationship with an unbeliever (or someone who claims to be a Christ-follower, but shows no interest in actually following Christ). Second, couples should look for signs of a strong character in each other. What type of man or woman do you want raising your children? What type of man or woman do you want helping you care for your parents in their elderly years? What type of man or woman do you want to align yourself in mission for the next fifty years?
As looks fade, physical attraction dies down, and youth’s passions wane, how someone treats you and those you love will become fundamentally important.
Are the following traits important to you? Does your significant other possess them?
- Trustworthiness/Honesty – Perhaps you are thinking, “Heather, this is a no-brainer. Of course trustworthiness is important in a mate.” Yes, it is, but I am amazed at how many people, (including myself in some past relationships), ignore this quality in the name of “being in love.” “Love conquers all,” “He is growing in his faith”, “Everyone makes mistakes” – these are all phrases we use when we want to hold on to relationships we know are not good for us. One comment I frequently made as a teenager is this: “If God has forgiven him, then who am I not to forgive him as well?” It was a convenient way to use God to justify my foolish dating choices. Truthfully, who was I not to forgive him? Forgiveness is always required (Matthew 6:14-15), but staying in a dating relationship is not. If you are dating someone who has proven him or herself worthy of your trust (i.e., remaining faithful to you, giving honest responses to your questions, speaking well of you to others in your absence, etc.), please do not take this trait for granted. In fact, thank him or her for being trustworthy – it is rarer than is normally found.
- Maturity – Marriage is for adults, which means exclusive dating should also be for adults. Getting to know members of the opposite sex is healthy for development. Group friendships comprise some of our most cherished childhood memories. However, dating seriously at fourteen is rarely a good idea. The vast majority of high schoolers are not mature enough to consider tying the knot. With that said, many 20 and 30 somethings are not ready for marriage either. ~smile~ One’s age does not equal his or her maturity. There are some young folks in my life I would call for advice; whereas, there are some baby boomers I would not trust to even drive me to the grocery store. Refusing to use manipulation tactics or mind games, admitting faults and seeking resolutions, being able to hold on to jobs – these are all signs of maturity.
- A Sense of Humor – In my romantic, comedy-loving teens, a sense of humor did not mean that much to me. Passion, excitement, and romance were far more important. But, now I would trade any Hallmark romance for the kind of relationship which keeps me laughing. Lord willing, you and your future mate will enjoy a wonderful sex life and have beautiful evenings of dining and dancing, but laughter is something you can share every day in almost every situation. If you choose to have a sense of humor about life, you can avoid much bitterness and despair. So, please do not ignore this trait in your search for a mate. If you cannot laugh with your lifetime partner, you are in for a long, long, unpleasant ride!
- Ability to Forgive – “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” – Ruth Bell Graham Forgiveness comes more easily to some than others. Ask yourself, “Whether it comes easily or not, is my partner willing and able to forgive?” If someone struggles initially to forgive but shows the determination to pray through until he or she can forgive, that shows depth of character. Eric tends to have an easier time forgiving because he does not see the point in holding a grudge. Though I do not see the point in holding grudges either, I still struggle to let go of hurts. If your partner wants to forgive and makes efforts to pray through his or her struggles, this is a good sign; but, if he or she holds onto anger and justifies it, that is a red flag indeed.
- Willingness to Work Hard – There are naturally hard workers (like Eric), and then there are low energy folks who have to push themselves to work hard (like me). Whether your significant other is a naturally-driven person, or someone who chooses to push when his or her body wants to be lazy, willingness to work hard is an important sign. Before getting engaged, complete several projects together. Do you work well as a team?
- Gentleness – No matter our shape, size, or personality, we all desire gentleness and tenderness in a mate. Most women I know (myself included) want a man who is willing to check out suspicious noises in the basement and willing beat the tar out of household intruders; but, we also desire that same man to treat us tenderly. Men may not always admit it, but they want a tender and gentle woman in their lives as well. One night after a fight, exasperated, I yelled, “What do you want from me?!?!?!” and walked away. When I returned, I found a note on my pillow which read, “I want tenderness, gentleness…” It stopped me in my tracks (cf. I Peter 3:3-4). There are billions of people on this planet and we want one of those people to treat us like royalty. Everyone wants gentleness in their mates to be directed back toward them.
- Self-Control – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV, emphasis mine). Some think of sexual self-control when they read this passage. Others think of controlling one’s tongue from speaking evil. When I hear the term self-control these days, I think of someone controlling his or her temper. There are hundreds of opportunities to show self-control: dealing with rude customers, working with disrespectful children, resisting compromising situations, and walking away from gossip sessions at work – just to name a few. Does your sweetheart exercise self-control as a way of life? Everyone falls short occasionally; but, there is a difference in losing self-control once in a long while and consistently throwing caution to the wind. Once in a while, after reaching his breaking point, Eric will speak or act in anger; however, he lives the majority of his life steadily and sensibly. Had he shown a frequent lack of self-control when we were dating, I would have felt uncomfortable putting myself under his leadership.
- Dependability – Does he show up when he says he will? Does she do what she says she will do? Does his yes mean yes? Does her no mean no? When your significant other agrees to do something, do you assume (based on experience) he or she is going to show up or is there a doubtful voice in the back of your mind wondering, “Is he (or she) going to follow through this time?” Once in college, I dropped the man I was dating off at an academic building to speak with someone. He was gone a long time and I became frustrated as I waited. Finally, I called his dorm room and was shocked when he answered. “Why did you not come back to the car?!” His response still surprises me. “I thought you probably went home. So, I got a ride from my friend.” To this day, I do not know what he was doing in that building (nor do I care), but I am still amazed that he assumed I would leave him stranded. In retrospect, I see that he was so undependable he assumed others were equally undependable. If you can count on your lady or gentleman, be truly grateful! (And never leave him or her stranded! ~smile~)
- Compassion – “Well, that’s just stupid!” When I hear this phrase, my body tenses – especially when it is used to describe someone’s feelings. We are all twirling around the same sun, we have to be here together, and we are all different. What God declares as truth is the truth, but He also created us to be incredibly different. What I consider beautiful may be too bright and pink for you, and that is okay! My way of cleaning may seem completely inefficient to type A personalities, and that is fine. ~smile~ We are all different. We do not see the world through the same lenses. So, it is extremely frustrating to live with a spouse who has little or no respect for your point of view or way of life. If your girlfriend rolls her eyes when you share your thoughts, or your man scoffs at your ideas, ask yourself if you want to live with frequent criticism and ridicule for the rest of your life. If your boyfriend laughs at you when you make mistakes, or your girlfriend responds to your pain with, “Well, that’s what happens when you make dumb decisions,” that should give you pause. It is no fun living with a haughty, self-righteous person.
- Loyalty – Is he loyal to his friends? Does she keep her family relationships solid? Does it take a lot for him or her to walk away from a friendship? What does his or her behavior tell you about what you can expect in the future? Has she broken up with a dozen guys in the past three years? What were her reasons? Does he talk one way to his buddy’s face and then make fun of him the second he leaves? If your sweetheart is not loyal to friends and family, he or she will not be loyal to you. Loyalty goes beyond fidelity, though disloyal people are more likely to have affairs. Loyalty includes being true to someone in word and deed – when it is convenient and inconvenient – even when that person does not deserve it. A loyal person is not a one strike and you are out kind of friend.
If you are not sure your boyfriend or girlfriend possesses the character traits above, start taking notice. Instead of spending all your time alone, visit his parents with him. Go out with her and her girlfriends. Meet each other’s co-workers and involve yourselves in each other’s worlds. Ask family members and long-time friends to share stories. Pay attention to reoccurring comments such as, “Yeah, he does not lose well,” or, “She is a handful when she gets mad!”
If you are feeling especially brave, ask his or her exes (dating or spouses), “What do you believe went wrong in your relationship?” Those conversations can be telling (though it is important to consider the source and discern truth from bitterness).
This year, Eric and I are determined to make our lives more simple, and in doing so, we want to help our clients and readers lead simplified lives as well. Choosing a quality mate will simplify your future! Life will not be perfect, and you will still have your share of trials, but what a blessing it will be to face them with someone you trust!
The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith. – Billy Graham
Does your significant other possess a strong character?